With the Summer Olympics commencing, we dug up some hockey players who have crossed over to compete in Summer Games sports over the years.
The 2016 Summer Olympic Games officially launched Friday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with the opening ceremonies. Even if we hockey lovers feel starved for the Winter Games, we can get our fix if we think outside the box.
Start by cheering for Ray Whitney. The 1,330-game NHL veteran has found a new passion in retirement: caddying. He’ll carry the sticks for Canadian golfer Graham DeLaet on the course in Rio. Whitney and DeLaet both live in Scottsdale, Ariz., they’re good friends, and they’ve played multiple charity tournaments together. Whitney will sub in for DeLaet’s regular PGA caddy, Julian Trudeau.
So we have a hockey player to cheer for. Still, it’s not like Whitney will actually compete. Plenty of outstanding hockey players have at the Summer Games, however, and that doesn’t just include all the teams from 1920, when hockey was a Summer Olympic sport.
Here are five pucksters who legitimately competed at the Summer Olympics over the years.
Tom Coulter, hurdles, 1932
Tom Coulter barely made a splash as an NHLer, suiting up for just one or two games with the Chicago Black Hawks in 1933-34. That’s right – one or two. The records of his career are spotty, with some suggesting he played just the one game and others that he suited up for a second as “a spare.” His brother, Arthur, had a much more fruitful career with Chicago and the New York Rangers and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974.
But hockey was just one of Tom’s talents. He was a good football player and quite the track and field competitor. He was so dominant with Carnegie Mellon University’s track team in Pittsburgh that he earned the nickname, ‘The One-Man Track Team.’ He qualified for the 1932 Los Angeles Summer Olympics by winning the 440-meter hurdles at the Canadian championships. Tom became a bull in a china shop on the global stage, though, bowling over four hurdles and ending up disqualified.
Alas, Tom ended up second fiddle to a brother in Olympic competition and hockey, as Tom’s other brother, David Coulter, won silver in boxing at the 1928 Olympics.
Syl Apps, pole vaulting, 1936
Apps was such a natural athlete that his visible skill in sports other than hockey are what got him recruited to hockey in the first place. Toronto Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe recruited Apps to play in the NHL after seeing Apps’ dominance on the football field with McMaster University. Smythe had never seen Apps play one second of hockey but was convinced of his stardom nonetheless and offered him a contract.
Apps’ all-round athleticism initially blocked his foray into pro hockey. Apps didn’t want to forego his amateur status because he was set to compete in pole vaulting at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. Apps had won gold at the 1934 British Empire Games and parlayed that momentum into a sixth-place finish at the Olympics, where he was also Canada’s flag bearer at the opening ceremonies. He returned to Canada for the 1936-37 NHL season and began his Hall of Fame career with the Leafs.
Olympic bloodlines flow strongly in the Apps family. Syl’s granddaughter, Gillian Apps, is a three-time gold medallist at the Winter Games in women’s hockey with Team Canada. His grandson, Darren Barber, took Summer Olympic gold in the men’s 8 in rowing at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
Vsevolod Bobrov, soccer, 1952
More modern hockey fans likely remember Bobrov best as the Soviet Union’s coach in the 1972 Summit Series. But this guy was a legendary athlete in his own right, good enough to grace postage stamps in his homeland and dominant not just in hockey, but also in soccer. Bobrov scored a ridiculous 97 goals in 116 Soviet League games over his career (that pales in comparison to his 254 goals in 130 Soviet League hockey games, but still) and won three national titles.
Bobrov was at the heart of an epic comeback on the soccer pitch at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. His Soviets trailed Yugoslavia 5-1 with 15 minutes left before roaring back to tie the game 5-5. Bobrov scored a hat trick.
Bobrov went on to many international triumphs in hockey, including Winter Olympic gold, but he’s a unique specimen in that he was legitimately dominant in two sports, a la Bo Jackson.
Hank Lammens, sailing, 1992
Sailing and hockey? Two sports that couldn’t be more different in tone. Yet Lammens straddled the line between both.
The New York Islanders drafted him 160th overall in 1985 – 54 picks ahead of future Hall of Famer Igor Larionov. Lammens spent several years in the minor leagues and pursued his second passion, sailing, on the side. Turns out he was darned good at it. Lammens won the 1990 and 1991 Finn Gold Cup, which is the equivalent of the world title in the Finn class, and he qualified for the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. He had a rocky go of it, however. First off, because of his hockey player build, he was randomly drug tested five different times after opponents became suspicious of his physique. Secondly, a fluke incident sunk his medal hopes. After he won a race, officials discovered his boat was missing its life jacket and he was disqualified. He finished 13th in the Finn class.
Lammens enjoyed one season as an NHLer, playing 27 games with the lowly Ottawa Senators in 1993-94.
Hayley Wickenheiser, softball, 2000
It’s hardly a surprise Wickenheiser, an athlete so impressive that she competed in men’s second- and third-division pro hockey in Finland, could play a second sport at a professional and Olympic level. At the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, she became the second Canadian woman to participate in the Winter and Summer Games, joining Sue Holloway.
Wickenheiser filled an outfielder/utility role for the Canucks, who scuffled to a 1-6 record despite a respectable run differential of minus-5. She served as a color commentator for women’s softball at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China.
Countless other international hockey players have completed in the Olympics over the years. This article by Joe Pelletier provides a fascinating, comprehensive list.
Now it’s time to enjoy the Summer Olympic Games and Ray Whitney. Great way to pass the time until the World Cup, right?
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin